Investigation reveals operators undercut agents by as much as £887

By Linsey McNeill
Home » Investigation reveals operators undercut agents by as much as £887

Operators undercut agents by an average of £252 for a week’s package to Spain, according to new research by consumer body Which?

Its mystery shoppers found that in the most extreme case, a holidaymaker would save as much as £887 booking direct rather than via an agent.

They visited a total of 16 stores belonging to Co-op Travel, Hays, Kuoni and TUI stores and then immediately compared the online price, and in almost all cases Which? said customers would have paid ‘way over the odds’ if they’d booked with the agent.

They asked agents either for a one-week package to Marbella in June or a two-week package to the Dominican Republic in November then compared the prices online before returning to ‘haggle’ with the high street agents.

The biggest difference in price was between an easyJet holidays package to Marbella and a package offered by the Kuoni store, which was £887 more expensive. Kuoni agreed to chop £207 off the cost of its package, but it was still £680 more expensive than the package available with easyJet holidays.

Kuoni told researchers that if it discounted any further it would make a loss, and that ‘easyjet could probably offer it cheaper because they have greater demand and buying power for that destination’.

The Hays package was £235 more expensive than booking direct with an operator, but it refused to discount. Co-op Travel knocked off nearly £400 to make it £60 cheaper than the online price.

Even though Co-op Travel, Hays and Kuoni also agreed to heavily discount the Dominican Republic packages, they were still unable to match the price advertised on the operators’ websites. TUI refused to discount, although booking in store was only £5 more expensive.

Which? researchers also checked prices with four Travel Counsellors, but it said all of them ‘failed to match the lowest prices found online’.

One quoted £453 more for the package to the Dominican Republic compared to booking direct with TUI.

What about travel agent service?

Its research led Which? to conclude that if consumers ‘simply want the best price for a package holiday’ they should book direct.

However, it added: “When it comes to that big holiday with lots of moving parts, it can be worth calling in the experts.

“The more unusual and more expensive the holiday, the more likely they are to be able to save you money and they can also offer insider advice.”

It said the service its mystery shoppers received was ‘mostly excellent’.

“Hays in particular received glowing reviews; three out of four mystery shoppers awarded them the full five stars for customer service,” it said.

What do agents say?

Hays told Which?: “Our customers understand and appreciate that self-service – while cheaper – does not offer the same sense of security and confidence as booking through an agent.”

On the Marbella holiday, Kuoni said: “The majority of the holidays we plan are tailor-made to customer requirements, including lots of multi-centre, tailor-made trips not easy to replicate online.”

It added: “If the customer is booking purely on price, we’d always be very open that they may in this instance be better off booking directly online.”

Co-op Travel told Which?: “The advice and support our customers receive from our teams is far-reaching and  goes beyond the support that they would receive from an online booking system.”

Travel Counsellors said: “The value Travel Counsellors adds really comes in around more complex, long-haul itineraries and support for the whole customer experience, not just at the time of booking.

“So, in this context we don’t feel it is fair or representative of what we do and what our model is based on, or the value our travel counsellors really do deliver.”

You can read the full Which? report here.

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